Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]



Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

Some Apocalyptic Thoughts for Monday Afternoon

Warning:  This is some very disturbing analysis.  I hope I’m 100% wrong on this one.  I’ve also thought the scenario I outline below was possible for 2009 but through the end of October/early November, I thought it still somewhat remote.  I’m less confident and increasingly pesimisstic about the potential for this scenario to be very real, very much in play (more and more likely by the day it seems as of now with no wise leadership or counter-movements to help block the momentum).  So be warned.  I’m not in the business of fear-peddling or fear-hyping, but these are dark thoughts.  There are not the only ones within my brain, but I have been appalled (even fairly cynical me) by the responses across the board to this crisis and the sense that there is no Wizard behind the curtain.

I’m increasingly growing very disturbed by the way global events are proceeding.  A chain of potential explosions across the grid of the globe looks frighteningly more plausible by the day.  Meanwhile the US media is caught in wonderful tales of some pathetic Illinois Governor and a dude launching his foot wear. Here in Canada it’s about the potential of a coalition government.

All of which still assume a top-down model of power, a kind of view of the stability of large scale social organization that may all be swept away.  Reading the newspapers and frankly much of the blogosphere is becoming an increasingly useless exercise for me.  Particularly when it comes to political discussion:  left, right, libertarian, progressive, blah blah.  All of those discussions are assuming the continued existence in some form or other or our social-technological cultural foundations.

To me its increasingly as if reading the news in the ancient ziggurat/city-state culture a few months before Alexander the Great came conquering across Eurasian and installed the Hellenistic world and swept away the decaying, crumbling previous world era.  Like I said some apocalyptic thoughts.

The economic story would go like this:  the American consumer is dead and has been flogged to the breaking point of exhaustion.  Who then is going to buy all those Asian products?  Who can they sell their wares to?  The Asian economies contract leading them to stop buying the commodities across the Global South (esp. Latin America and Africa) that have led to that bubble (see the mass decrease in the price of oil recently).  Huge deflationary movements across the global simultaneously.  Much more rapidly and the fragility (i.e. non-redundancy) of the global platform system bleeds out.

As Niall Ferguson in his epic The War of the World, the great catacylsm and spasm of violence across the globe emanating from Europe during the 20th century (First War, Second War, Cold War) consisted of the inter-locking reality of the three “E”s:  empire, economics, and ethnicity.  Empire being the death of imperial systems.  See the decline of the US.  Also with all the talk of the coming Asian Century (rise of India/China), this could all be swept away by the economic meltdown.  The Asian Century that wasn’t in other words.  Still-born Asian Century.  The vacuum created by the implosion of economic and imperial systems, is filled by ethnic hatreds that flare up to the consternation and shock of many who assume a cosmopolitan order of peace and security (all fine when the economy and governance is roughly holding up).

The most likely early hot spots of ethnic hatred is the band of the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Syria???, through obviously Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India).  Other increased zones of violence would be Gap-status countires in the Western Hempishere (on smaller scale but still bloody).  Revived narco-fueled wars across Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, southern Mexico.  Other ranges of violence: The Horn of Africa (another Somalia implosion on the horizon) as well as violence across the middle band (Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, and potential flare ups again in Congo).

The massive de-leveraging must continue and the question is only whether the end of the fall (which has at least 9 months, probably 12 to 24 to maybe even 36-40 to go. who the hell knows at this point) will end us worse than the build up.  Exposed, exhausted, and de-legitimized.  The space of de-legitimization to be filled by ethno-nationalistic movements across the board.

With the breakdown of nation-state systems (orange and blue in Spiral colors), comes a mass re-reddifying both in memetic coloring and potentially in real blood, merged with increased technological capacity (global platform) plus increased cognitive flexibility and complexity however merged to earlier moral/social systems. Roving bands of pirates (e.g. Somalia), terrorists (e.g. Mumbai), criminal networks (coming here already to Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, particularly the global sex slavery/human chattel trade) counteracted by potentially increased technocratic elites holding onto whatever power they can, as civil libertiese erode due to the inability to come up with a worldwide republican security theory, class lines harden in the post-industrial societies, the social contract of the 20th century continues to break down (ask Ford, GM, Chrysler) as the Nation-State gives way to the (increainsgly predatory?) Market State.

Ferguson forget a fourth E:  Environment.  As in environmental degradation/destruction as a potential accelerant to the fire of the other three.  Something along the lines of Diamond’s Collapse scenario.

The idea that an infrastructure stimulus will jump start the US economy out of this bog seems increasingly detached from reality for me.  At the pace things are moving, if the wave swells become large enough, it isn’t going to matter, as it could all be swept away by the mega-forces aligning at the moment.

Like I said, God how I hope I’m  completely wrong on this one.

Two African Insurgency Stories

Both from NyTimes.

  • A story on al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.  How an anti-government Islamist insurgency in Algeria became part of a trans-national jihadist movement because of Iraq.

Key quotation:

Then the leader of the group, a university mathematics graduate named Abdelmalek Droukdal, sent a secret message to Iraq in the fall of 2004. The recipient was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and the two men on opposite ends of the Arab world engaged in what one firsthand observer describes as a corporate merger.

Today, as Islamist violence wanes in some parts of the world, the Algerian militants — renamed Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — have grown into one of the most potent Osama bin Laden affiliates, reinvigorated with fresh recruits and a zeal for Western targets.

Maghreb is the traditional Arabic name for North-Western Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, etc.).  Algeria recall in the 90s was the site of a horrific level of violence after an Islamist political party won open elections but was barred by the military from coming to power.  They then turned to violence (since the political process was closed off to them) and began a blood-soaked civil war.  The government went so far as to infiltrate the insurgency and help plan and execute attacks on civilians which were then (plausibly) blamed on the insurgents.  This eroded support for the insurgency which is where they were up until Iraq and Zarqawi’s franchising of al-Qaeda in Iraq revived their fortunes.

On Somalia watch this God-awful documentary about the West’s backing of corrupt dictators (via Ethiopia):

Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obama’s Berlin Speech

The full text of the speech is here.

My general sense is that it was a (somewhat) interesting failure. I’m not really sure why he gave it–nor am I sure if he knew why he was doing it. But it was a sort of different try. I’m all for failed experiments in that mold.

The right of course is going ballistic over his use of the “world citizen” trope, which philosophically I’m basically in agreement with Poulos. However, the tired right-wing politicization of everything and its historical amnesia, again rears its ugly head deconstructing their own critique because St. Ronald of Reagan actually used the hated phrase (“citizens of the world”) in a SOTU speech. (h/t KB via Yglesias). Oops.

Obviously the Obama paeans to ending global warming, curing all poverty, never again allowing genocide, played well to the crowd and are largely some hot air.

That stuff aside for the moment (bc like i said I still think it was overall a failure), Obama correctly warned that the globalized world we have created can not last so long as the gains are so disproportionately dispersed. The system can only maintain itself in that fashion by systematic, massive violence which undercuts everything the better angels of the West stand for–opportunity, freedom, rule of law/justice, and the like.

But this part actually I found quite sharp

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil…

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin.

It was a very intelligent frame (imo) to place the struggle against terrorism as a parallel to the battle of ideas against Communism (against the backdrop of the site/anniversary of the Berlin Air Lift). Bush and the neocons mythic belief in democracy (if you assume for the moment it was sincere) already held that people all the time, in every place and age want freedom (hint: they don’t, at least not in the way the West defines freedom). Hence there was no need to argue on a idea-plane for rule of law. Nor was there any worry that committing crimes (e.g. torture) that undercut that standing would reduce the desire for freedom in the rest of the world.

Obama is going back to a road opened up after 9/11 that Bush never took–a united front against terrorism.  Rather than and out and out attempt to unilaterally impose an American century via imperial trouncing around the Middle  East.

Obama posits a view that learned the lessons of the Cold War (containment, the priority of values, and the need for the US to employ its power through institutions/alliances) without actually living in the dark mindset of the Cold War–the paranoia, realizing that the terrorists are not the Soviets, not within reach/have the capacity take over the world. Its post-Cold War in that its not seeing for example, the primary lens (a la Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz) as nation states but rather the seams/gaps in globalization that trans-national groups can exploit.

Obama is still too enamored I think of the notion that poverty breeds terrorism. Therefore his references to ending it. I understand it’s a selling point, but it doesn’t really add up at least relative to al-Qaeda. Their beef is US foreign policy plain and simple.  I think you could make the point that such poverty is a blight and must be engaged simply on a moral level not vis a vis terrorism.  Otherwise it can back door “national” Islamist movements into al-Qaeda.

Still at the very least Obama understands that the fight against these groups involves thinking about actual objective realities and learning to live with less-than-ideal scenarios, versus McCain who is lost in Cosmic Good/Evil Land as well as the notion that the fight depend simply on emotional constructs like “no surrender” and strategies based on “victory”–and therefore (falsely and in a pathetic manner) accusing your opponent of seeking to lose wars. [The war was won “my friend”, the peace was lost].

Darfur Update

Excellent reporting from David Axe in The American Prospect.

As has been reported elsewhere and is given further proof from Axe’s reporting, the militia-ization of Sudan/Chad continues apace. It is fragmenting along ethnic, tribal lines. There are criminal gang militias, government sponsored militias (the janjaweed), rebel militias with human atrocities/violations committed on all sides—rebel groups are taking child soldiers to fight the genocide-sponsoring Khartoum government for example.


The U.N. says that the war shows no signs of ending anytime soon and that more aid will be needed. But based on conversations with sources at Iridimi and elsewhere in eastern Chad, it’s possible that the largely Western-funded humanitarian effort to “save Darfur” is actually prolonging the conflict by providing a safe haven in Chad for the rebel groups fighting Khartoum and its janjaweed militia proxies. The rebels have become so empowered that they declined to attend Libyan-sponsored, U.S.-supported peace talks last year.

With both US prez candidates talking about intervening in Darfur, some sober reflection is required. Obama’s plan for Darfur can be found here (scroll down the page). It involves a no fly zone, tougher sanctions on the Khartoum government, and more support for the African Union.

But that plan it would seem fails to take into account the rebel movement and its own human rights violations. [One of the key platforms of Obama’s FP influenced by Samantha Power is ending Genocide. Her classic text on the subject, here]. It also in other words fits a basic template of Clintonian-Blairian-Powell Doctrine liberal humanitarianism. Sanctions, no fly zones, etc a la Iraq policy during the 90s or African policy in the 90s (Liberia, SIerra Leone).

I checked John McCain’s website and (not surprisingly) there is nothing about Darfur/African policy. [Sidenote: Unbelievably (and to my horror) there is nothing under the Issues Frame about Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s all Iraq. But there is talk of missile defense!!! See here.]

I did find this Washington Post op-ed McCain co-authored with Bob Dole in 2006 on Darfur. It’s basically the same plan as Obama’s: keep the AU troops in, financial sanctions on Khartoum, no fly zone, and intelligence sharing].

Interesting this regard that McCain compares the situation to the Balkans given the recent declaration of independence by Kosovo. On this trend line, it would seem Sudan could headed for breakup. That could be the first (along with Somalia and Congo) in a trajectory of deconstruction/recreation of African states.

On the priority list of Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Darfur it obviously comes in a distant fourth. But given the post Obama presidency (assuming he has an 8 year run let’s say) will be increasingly focused on African policy and our relationship with China (given China essentially is building Africa brick by brick). This is one to keep on the horizon. As Thomas Barnett I think correctly predicted years ago, Africa, particularly middle zone Africa, will be the next major staging ground of al-Qaeda like jihadism. It is unclear if the stationing of foreign troops in Sudan/Chad will later (a la Bin Laden’s anger over US stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia during Gulf War I) be used as rallying cry for such movements.